Monday, 19 March 2018

TES Article: Long read: The battle for the soul of RE

“Is it a mythical story?” says Andy Lewis, director of RE at St Bonaventure’s Catholic School, in East London. “A literal story? A symbolic story? If students understand the concept of the story, they can get into that debate.

“You’re asking questions about the nature of God. Year 7s really enjoy discussions about: who is God? They get to grapple with some quite difficult questions there.”

Read the full article <here>


A few thoughts from me on the article:

a) I do think the theological concepts are vital in RE. This is definitely our preferred approach within Catholic education, however we are not alone in this. Jonathan Porter at Michaela School has blogged about the important of scripture in RE (<here> and <here>), Robert Orme ensured that the Bible was covered in the new Collins Knowing Religion series with a 'double length book' on Biblical Literacy (<here>) and Michael Merrick (another Catholic teacher) recently wrote about religious literacy needing scripture and a focus on the spiritual (<here>).

b) I do think a really clear curriculum is needed, and should be followed. If the system is broken, we need to look at ways to fix it - something the Comission on RE are actively doing. What worries me is the 'teach what you like (or think appropriate)' remains a feature in RE. Things become sensationalised, and we simply debate unsubstantiated opinions. This also links to the colonisation of RE, and the resulting impact, squeezing all the other parts of the curriculum (Citizenship, RE, FBV etc) into an hour a week.

c) Topics such as abortion and euthanasia are not on all the new GCSE curricula, as they are not in the Annex document, however they still feature in my lessons for Edexcel. This is because we focus on key theological concepts such as imago Dei and how this leads to Catholic beliefs and teachings on start and end of life issues. You can meaningfully look at the application of the concept, once you know the concept. Too often I have been told Catholics are against these things because they "simply don't move with the times", rather than have a clear and coherent theological issue with them.

d) I enjoy the sociology of religion, it was a highlight from my A Level study when I took A Level Sociology. This complemented my A Level in Religious Studies. I remember sharing this revision PPT (<here>) and some RE teachers getting very excited saying this is exactly what should be taught in RE, forgetting that it was already on the Sociology curriculum.

e) I will be writing more soon about what I feel are some of the recent confusions surround theology in RE. For a start, it seems to now be defined by some as "faith seeking understanding" (St Anselm) and synonymous with a confessional approach, something I do not agree with.

And a clarification from Dr Anthony Towey:

a) I think that anyone can do Theology - Pope Francis, Richard Dawkins etc - insofar as they engage thoughtfully with the "God question/ hypothesis". In the RE classroom therefore, far from being an exercise in indoctrination, theology can and should be an adventure of the mind which critically considers the proposals of religious belief.

b) I myself use "the sociological method" at times in an RE context, my main contention, however, is that any claim that it be regarded as uniquely "objective, critical and pluralistic" is hopelessly flawed and philosophically untenable.

c) Re Jeremy Kyle - I regard lively but respectful debate as an essential ingredient of good RE. However, the Government's "knowledge agenda" has been a game changer for many subjects, particularly at GCSE. Rigour has improved with the need to reference sources rather than just take the temperature of opinions as often happens on daytime TV. One of the less positive consequences is that as teachers grapple with the new curricula, there is a feeling that there is so much to cover, there is almost no time for classroom discussion at all.

d) The RE Commission has a wide ranging brief that extends far beyond preferred methodologies which can, in any case, be regarded as complementary. Happily this is a view which the article demonstrates is not unique to me - I am confident that the eventual report of the Commission will reflect the vitality, variety, colour and cohesion of RE as a core component of our common educational endeavour.

e) As for my views on Genesis 1-3  - check out the video on the London RE Hub website - it presents "the drama of the gifted individual being challenged to choose the good" - and everyone of us is caught up in that - it's called life!

Anthony Towey
St Mary's University

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